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AJM ruminates: Should Texas carry three catchers?

The answer to this question is almost always “no.” But what if this time it is “yes”?

Texas Rangers Photo Day Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images

I’ve been wondering about the Texas Rangers Opening Day roster recently. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the bench alignment, something that probably occupies too much of my thinking anyway, generally speaking.

However...MLB is returning to the 13/13 roster rule for 2022, a rule that was to be implemented in 2020, but which wasn’t due to the whole COVID thing. The rule provides that, with the 26 man rosters in effect, teams must carry at least 13 position players and no more than 13 pitchers.*

* There is talk that there may be 27 or 28 man rosters for a few weeks or a month to start the year, due to the shortened spring training that resulted from the lockout. That would only be an interim situation, though.

The Rangers almost certainly will keep 13 pitchers, which means an 8 man bullpen. As of now, barring injury, it would seem that Joe Barlow, Spencer Patton, Brett Martin, John King, Garrett Richards and Matt Bush likely fill six of those eight slots. I have to think that the Rangers will carry a long man — especially if they don’t add another starting pitcher — so you can pencil in Kolby Allard, or random NRI with experience going multiple innings, for that role. That leaves one spot for the gaggle of other pitchers hanging around. Of course, again, that assumes no injuries, and there are always injuries.

But moving to the position player side...the Rangers have usually had a three man bench of late, consisting of a backup infielder, a backup outfielder, and a backup catcher.

Assuming that the Rangers don’t add an outfielder (or Trevor Story), the unsettled starting lineup spots seem to be third base, left field and DH. As of now, the talk is that Brad Miller and Nick Solak would platoon in left field, Andy Ibanez is getting first crack at third base, with Charlie Culberson or Matt Carpenter possibly spelling him or in a semi-platoon there, and Willie Calhoun at DH.

Which would mean that you have three of your bench spots filled with Solak, Culberson or Carpenter, and either Jonah Heim or Jose Trevino backing up Mitch Garver behind the plate.

So what to do with the fourth spot?

If Culberson makes the team, he would be your backup shortstop, which would alleviate the need for a bench guy who could play shortstop. Even if you keep Carpenter, though, I don’t know that there would necessarily be a desire to devote the fourth bench spot to a guy whose primary role would be spelling Corey Seager at shortstop — Marcus Semien may just shift to shortstop in that situation, or maybe Brad Miller moves into the infield and plays his old spot (though he’s manned shortstop only sparingly the last few years).

You don’t really have a backup centerfielder with this alignment, though presumably Nick Solak would move to centerfield if Adolis Garcia needed a day off. Still, having a speed and defense guy available off the bench would be useful, and is why Eli White or Jake Marisnick may end up grabbing the final bench spot come Opening Day.

But let’s say you are comfortable with Solak as your backup centerfielder, and Culberson or whoever backing up shortstop. At that point, does it make sense to look at carrying both Jose Trevino and Jonah Heim on the roster?

The argument for doing so is that Garver is a righthanded hitter who is, well, a really good hitter. Probably a better hitter than Willie Calhoun, who you have slated to be your DH, and who is lefthanded. And Garver is the weakest defensive catcher of your three catching candidates.

So would it make sense to platoon Garver and Calhoun at DH, with Garver also getting 50-60 starts behind the plate against righthanded hitters? It saves some physical wear and tear on Garver, who has a history of injury issues. It allows you to DH Garver without losing the DH spot should you have to pull your starting catcher. It increases your ability to pinch hit or pinch run for your catcher, since you still have a catching option available to you.

My reflexive reaction to the idea of three catchers is usually to just reject it, and really, using that final bench spot on an outfielder who can play center field and run a little is probably the most likely scenario. But keeping Garver, Trevino and Heim all around is something that could work, and is at least worth thinking about.